John Carpenter live is a total killer of a show

John Carpenter and
John Carpenter center stage, with footage from Big Trouble in Little China in the background

Following the release of Lost Themes II, John Carpenter’s second non-soundtrack album, the horror auteur has embarked on his first concert tour, selling out LA’s historic Orpheum Theatre at Saturday’s killer show.

The setlist was varied, balanced and cohesive — the main themes of his classic films interspersed with selections from his recent records.

The venue itself, with its large halls, gaudy chandeliers and art deco design was the perfect setting for the music, its dramatic atmosphere enhancing the moody grooves and iconic melodies resonating from the stage.

Joining the legendary filmmaker was his son Cody, who together recreated the glassy pads, minimal arpeggios and spooky synthscapes that have become ingrained in the pop-culture conscious, synonymous with the camp, blood and screams of an entire generation of horror cinema.

Layered with heavy drums, propulsive bass and delightfully cheesy hard rock guitars, the sound six piece created was huge, tight and filled the room without losing Carpenter’s signature, haunting dynamics.

The sounds and arrangements were flawless – authentic to the source material yet full of life and energy, never once feeling like a pre-recorded experience.

It was a night of campy delight, but that should in no way interfere with the quality of the compositions or the experience.

The musicians were top notch, the band absorbed in the moment, with Carpenter Sr. gyrating slowly as the audience cheered for the classics while getting sucked in by the newer material.

Carpenter played both classics from his movies as well as new material

For the soundtrack selections, tasteful snippets of the films were displayed, adding to the atmosphere with the bloodcurdling visuals of The Thing, the wild, laser-eyed kung fu of Big Trouble in Little China, the corporate aliens of They Live and the pale blank face of Halloween.

For the songs from Lost Themes I & II, which included Distant Dream, Vortex, Virtual Survivor and Wraith, the visuals disappeared, replaced by the warm glow of colored gels.

This put an emphasis on the music while enhancing the overall vibe of the songs, making for an elegant, simple and effective tool without ever getting in the way of the new songs.

After a satisfying three-song encore, John Carpenter thanked the crowd and begged them to drive safe, “for Christine is out there” he bellowed as the band went into their last song, the theme from the Stephen King adaptation about a killer car.

I never would’ve thought I’d get the chance to see John Carpenter live, nor would I have imagined it to be as great of an experience as it was.

His contributions to pop culture are countless and the show itself captured all the campy fun, terror and synthy goodness of the films, only to expand on it with the songs from Lost Themes.

Are the sounds dated? Sure, but that only adds to their appeal. The show is certainly aimed at nostalgia and Carpenter’s cult following, but that doesn’t detract from the love and attention that went into cultivating the experience.

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